Sand rained down like a dense snow in that early evening when Seth arrived back in Sternum. It would be another week before he was to report to the Sword, but the first of the regiment had already begun to trickle back into the city.
When he crossed the threshold of his homestead he could already see his mother running toward him. She met him at the end of the road and hugged him tight.
“Did you see it?” She asked while shaking the sand from Seth’s hair.
He nodded, still trying to digest what had happened in The Windbreak. The long trek back to Sternum did nothing but send his mind in all directions of the imaginative.
She pet him once more, trying to find where her son was in those eyes. When she found a glimpse of him, Heather worriedly said, “Well. Let’s get out of this storm. Dinner is almost ready. Cole has become quite the hunter and cook.”
Seth felt the grooves of the old wooden dinner table under his fingertips. Candlelight conjured figures that danced across their faces and the rest of the room. Each one of their eyes like flames. His mind was elsewhere and Heather sensed it. Perhaps Cole sensed it as well. The sound of flickering in the fireplace and utensil digging into dinnerware filled the room. An audible silence.
“Cole,” Heather swallowed. “Why don’t you tell your brother of your successes in the forest.”
Cole looked at his mother and then to Seth who still stared blankly in flame of the candle.
“Two deer, both doe, some rabbits, squirrels,” Cole began as if only to pacify his mother’s request, but could not help to be proud of his achievements. “Then there was the boar. The biggest one I’ve ever seen. The beast fed me and mother for days.” He looked at Heather and she smiled.
“Go on. Tell him.”
“One morning,” Cole started, his eyes wide. “That morning it was exceptionally cold for this time of year. A cool breeze blew up from the grasslands. That morning I went to hunt in the forest. The sun had just begun to peek through the trees when I saw it. The great stag of Sternum. I had never seen anything so splendid,” Cole forked a potato and chewed it in between words. “I watched it for a while. It ate grass, raising its head every now and then to scan the horizon. The morning light against its horns…I wish you could have been there Seth. I…”
“Mother.” Seth finally spoke.
Cole froze his story in place. Heather shifted her gaze from Cole to Seth in a startled quickness.
“Mother, why did father leave us?”
Heather caught Cole’s gaze looking at her. She abandoned her son’s questioning eyes and found her food again.
“Did he not love us?” Seth said. His eyes fixed on the candlelight still. “Is it like everyone said? Was he a traitor?”
Heather’s fork dropped to her plate. She brought both of her hands together and met them at her mouth as she chewed the remaining meat.
“I guess your father was just unhappy. As for where he went afterwards, I don’t know. You know I don’t know. I’ve heard the stories as well,” She brought her hands down beside her plate and gave both of her sons a glance. “But I still think of your father as a decent man.”
“How can that be?” Seth looked up from the flame for the first time and met his mother’s eyes. “How can you think of him as a decent man when he left us?”
“You have to let go of resentment, Seth. It does nothing but weigh you down.”
“Tell me how you justify it.”
Heather saw that her son was upset. Seth’s hand clenched into itself upon the table. “Well, look how you boys have grown into young men yourselves. Without James that wouldn’t have come to be. I can’t teach you how to be a man.”
Seth’s clenched hand eased if only slightly. Time stood still a moment before Seth began to eat. Whatever trance of resentment that had been placed over him subsided, for now. Cole sensed this ease.
“Did you see it?” His voice was feeble with nervousness.
“I did.” Seth said in between bites.
Cole and Heather both fixated on their kin ready to grasp whatever story he was to tell.
“It was the most terrifying thing I have ever seen.”
Heather’s eyes ran flush as she heard the terror in her son’s voice, but she wiped the would-be tears before they could fall.
Seth raised his eyes and smirked when he saw they hung on his every word. The air lightened even more and Cole giggled.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Nothing so beautiful could be forged by human hands. I still can’t believe it.”
“And you spoke your wish to it, yes?” Heather asked as she forked another bite of food.
The wrinkles in her face disappeared as relief ran over her. Seth felt guilt, but more so ashamed that he had let childlike ambitions take over his instincts in such a volatile situation. I should’ve wished for more sense, the thought. But the deed was done and he knew it.
“Well, go on. What did it look like?” Cole said.
Seth went on to explain every detail in the dodecahedron’s multifaceted expression. Every corner of every panel. The red glow which seeped from beneath the corners. The voice of the being made Heather wonder if such a thing would keep Cole up at night. She wondered if it would keep her up at night.
Seth tried to explain how The Shape appeared from behind the thinnest of trees. Something that neither one of them could even begin to imagine. The size of The Merchant could only be concealed by something as wide as a building.
And then the room went silent again. The fire popped and Cole fiddled with his now cold food.
“So,” Heather wiped the crumbs from the table with a cloth. “What did it ask for in return?”
“Nothing? How can that be?” She asked.
“It spoke nothing of a payment, though I’m sure it’s meddling in a way that guarantees it’s paid.” Seth began to gather the plates from the table.
Cole stoked the fire.
“What will you do? Do you wait until something bad happens in return?” Cole asked.
“I’m not sure. For all I know the payment has already been met with a portion of my sanity.”
They all chuckled, but there was a realness in Seth’s voice that startled Heather. She embraced her son once again. Seth hugged his mother and spoke with a quiet softness.
“I told you, mother. I told you I’d come back and we’d be together before I join the Sword.”
She pulled away from her son and cradled his head in her hands. “Yes, you did and I am so very grateful that you are back.”